If we are flexible, hybrid and unfinished creatures that tend to incorporate or at least employ technological artefacts in our cognitive lives, then the sort of technological regime we live under should shape the kinds of minds we possess and the sorts of beings we are. E-Memory consists in digital systems and services we use to record, store and access digital memory traces to augment, re-use or replace organismic systems of memory. I consider the various advantages of extended and embedded approaches to cognition in making sense of E-Memory and some of the problems that debate can engender. I also explore how the different approaches imply different answers to questions such as: does our use of internet technology imply the diminishment of ourselves and our cognitive abilities? Whether or not our technologies can become actual parts of our minds, they may still influence our cognitive profile. I suggest E-Memory systems have four factors: totality, practical cognitive incorporability, autonomy and entanglement which conjointly have a novel incorporation profile and hence afford some novel cognitive possibilities. I find that thanks to the properties of totality and incorporability we can expect an increasing reliance on E-Memory. Yet the potentially highly entangled and autonomous nature of these technologie pose questions about whether they should really be counted as proper parts of our minds.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
In fact both Menary’s and Sutton’s texts were in circulation much earlier in the community: a version of Sutton’s text being presented in 2001 and circulated in draft from 2005. For an early discussion of related themes see Sutton (2003).
To use Andy Clark’s label (from Clark 2008) to refer to outlooks that hold that mind cannot extent into the world beyond the brain.
Adam & Aizawa’s argument on memory focuses on organic memory having a particular fine-grained functional profile implementing features such as recency and priming effects. Extended memory systems are very unlikely to have similar functional profiles to organic systems at very fine-grained levels but this seems unlikely to be a decisive point; see arguments in Clark (2008) and discussion of the complementarity principle (see Section 3 below)
Although the notion of cognitive technology is in itself contentious I hope not to beg any questions by using it here. Cognitive technology for these purposes might be thought of as any technology which we make extensive use of in tasks considered cognitive. I discuss the matter further here: (Clowes 2012)
Lifelogging is the movement among heavy users of digital media to attempt to produce a total digital capture of one’s life with digital recording devices, more or less as life happens, e.g. (Bell & Gemmell, 2009; Kalnikaite et al. 2010; Sellen and Whittaker 2010). I will return to this in a moment in discussion of the E-Memory property of totality.
If not in the context of the specific experiments cited here.
For the purposes of this article we will treat episodic and autobiographical systems as doing much the same job, whereas, more precisely episodic memory is construed as the capacity to consciously remember episodes in one’s life, whereas autobiographical memory is construed as dealing with knowledge of one’s life more generally including certain kinds of semantic knowledge (such as one’s date of birth or nationality). In fact the exact definition of autobiographical memory is something of a moving target (Hoerl 2007). I will have a little more to say about this distinction in the discussion of totality below.
In that paper it was just termed incorporability.
See the discussion of cognitive dovetailing in Clark (2003)
Indeed Heersmink analysis—in the same 2012 paper—of artefact/organism interactions into different levels of information flows appears to be compatible with the approach to different densities of interaction developed here.
To be clear terms like cognitive instrument, cognitive technology or even cognitive interaction are not supposed to imply that said instruments, technologies or interactions are necessarily part of anyone’s mind. They can be thought of as merely having important cognitive implications in the way that technologies were analysed for example in Hutchins (1995). None of this is supposed to beg the question against the HEMC theorist.
The complementarity principle is first coined in Sutton (2010) as a sort of antidote to the parity principle’s (Clark and Chalmers 1998) tendency to too strictly make novel cognitive technologies need to conform to prior organic cognitive systems. The parity principle is discussed in detail in Section 4.
Related inferences are drawn by Smart (2012)
This discussion in part re-iterates points made by some of those theorizing a “second wave” approach to the extended mind (Menary 2010; Sutton 2010) where—as we have seen—the emphasis is placed on understanding the dynamics of potential new cognitive systems and what is distinctive about them. As Sutton (2010, p. 41) wrote “in extended cognitive systems, external states and processes need not mimic or replicate the formats, dynamics, or functions of inner states and processes”. Insofar as the ontological discussion tends to obscure this sort of investigation then it will tend to block understanding of the new “kinds of minds” we may be developing.
NB—I have slightly amended these so they can be applied to technologies more generally rather than specifically referring to Otto’s notebook.
One factor that may count against this is that software companies may sometimes upgrade their software in ways that disturb a user’s pattern of smooth use, at least whilst one is adjusting to a new interface (Thanks to Ron Chrisley in personal communication for pointing this out). Personal experience of upgrades in Microsoft Office mean I tend to put off using upgraded software when working on important projects. Nevertheless the general tendency does seem toward more user-friendly gadgetry.
In the technical sense of not feeling ourselves to be the owner of those thoughts (Campbell 2002).
For instance, Carr claims that internet reading is necessarily disrupting and diffuse, but it is difficult to see why the use of a specialised reading device like the Kindle—already in mass usage—may not be invented that could switch off hyperlinks when needed (an easy way to facilitate internet reading?). In principle web content need not be much more distracting and dissipating than reading a book. It is possible to imagine the construction of web-reading software or hardware which might minimize the tendency of this technology to distract us.
For Carr the mass of internet users (and particularly the so-called digital natives who have never known any other kind of intellectual culture), it is simply as though our minds are bleeding away in the machines leaving us as almost sub-human Eloi. In fact the science fiction writer Dan Simmons (Simmons 2010) develops just such a Wellsian scenario in his book Ilium. In the book the semantic memory of human beings has atrophied to the point that they know almost nothing. They rely almost entirely on a future internet to browse whatever facile knowledge they need.
One argument in favour of the HEC outlook is that it allows us to recognise more interesting systems and regularities in the world than can be recognised by HEMC theories. Theorists who really insist in confining their attentions to the cognitive operations of the brain may find themselves restricted to the analysis of increasingly partial cognitive systems as we practically incorporate E-Memory technologies.
No pun intended.
Adams, F., and K. Aizawa. 2001. The bounds of cognition. Philosophical Psychology 14(1): 43–64.
Baddeley, A. 1992. Working memory: The interface between memory and cognition. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 4(3): 281–288.
Bell, C., and J. Gemmell. 2009. Total recall: How the E-memory revolution will change everything. Dutton.
Berry, E., N. Kapur, L. Williams, S. Hodges, P. Watson, G. Smyth, et al. 2007. The use of a wearable camera, SenseCam, as a pictorial diary to improve autobiographical memory in a patient with limbic encephalitis: A preliminary report. Neuropsychological Rehabilitation 17(4–5): 582–601.
Campbell, J. 2002. The ownership of thoughts. Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology 9(1): 35–39.
Carr, N. 2008. Is Google making us stupid? Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education 107(2): 89–94.
Carr, N. 2010. The shallows: How the internet is changing the way we think, read and remember. London: Atlantic Books.
Chalmers, D. 2007. Forward to supersizing the mind. In Supersizing the mind: Embodiment, action and cognitive extension. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Clark, A. 2003. Natural born cyborgs: Minds, technologies and the future of human intelligence. New York: Oxford University Press.
Clark, A. 2008. Supersizing the mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Clark, A., and D. Chalmers. 1998. The extended mind. Analysis 58: 10–23.
Clowes, R. W. 2012. Hybrid memory, cognitive technology and self. In ed. Y. Erdin and M. Bishop. Proceedings of AISB/IACAP World Congres.
Donald, M. 1991. Origins of the modern mind. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Donald, M. 1993. Precis of the origins of the modern mind: Three stages in the evolution of culture and cognition. The Behavioral and Brain Sciences 16: 737–791.
Gemmell, J., G. Bell, and R. Lueder. 2006. MyLifeBits: A personal database for everything. Communications of the ACM 49(1): 88–95.
Goody, J. 1977. The domestication of the savage mind. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Greenfield, S. 2008. ID: The quest for identity in the 21st century. London: Sceptre.
Gregory, R.L. 1981. Mind in science: A history of explanations in psychology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Halverson, J. 1992. Goody and the implosion of the literacy thesis. Man 27(2): 301–317.
Heersmink, R. 2012. Mind and artifact: A multidimensional matrix for exploring cognition-artifact relations. In Proceedings of AISB/IACAP World Congres 2012.
Heidegger, M. 1927. Being and time. Oxford: Basil, Blackwell.
Hodges, S., Williams, L., Berry, E., Izadi, S., Srinivasan, J., Butler, A., et al. 2006. SenseCam: A retrospective memory aid. UbiComp 2006: Ubiquitous computing, 177–193.
Hoerl, C. 2007. Episodic memory, autobiographical memory, narrative: On three key notions in current approaches to memory development. Philosophical Psychology 20(5): 621–640.
Hutchins, E. 1995. Cognition in the wild. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Kalnikaite, V., and S. Whittaker 2008. Cueing digital memory: how and why do digital notes help us remember? Paper presented at the Proceedings of the 22nd British HCI Group Annual Conference on People and Computers: Culture, Creativity, Interaction-Volume 1.
Kalnikaite, V., Sellen, A., Whittaker, S., and D. Kirk. 2010. Now let me see where I was: Understanding how lifelogs mediate memory. Paper Presented at the Proceedings of the 28th International Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.
Lanier, J. 2010. You are not a gadget: A manifesto. London: Allen Lane.
Leadbeater, C. 2008. We-think: Mass innovation not mass production. Profile.
Loftus, E.F., and G.R. Loftus. 1980. On the permanence of stored information in the human brain. American Psychologist 35(5): 409.
Loftus, E.F., and J.C. Palmer. 1974. Reconstruction of automobile destruction: An example of the interaction between language and memory. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior 13(5): 585–589.
Luria, A.R., and L.S. Vygotsky. 1992. Ape, primitive man and child: Essays in the history of behaviour. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Marcus, G. 2008. What if HM had a Blackberry? Coping with amnesia, using modern technology. Psychology Today.
Mayer-Schönberger, V. 2011. Delete: The virtue of forgetting in the digital age. Princeton: Princeton Univ.
McLuhan, M. 2001 . Understanding media: The extensions of man. London: Routledge.
Menary, R. 2010. Cognitive integration and the extended mind. In The extended mind, ed. R. Menary, 227–244. London: Bradford Book, MIT Press.
Mithen, S. 1996. The prehistory of the mind. London: Thames Hudson.
Nolan, C. 2000. Memento. Los Angeles: Newmarket Films.
Norman, D.A. 1999. The invisible computer: Why good products can fail, the personal computer is so complex, and information appliances are the solution. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Olson, D. 1994. The world on paper: The conceptual and cognitive implications of writing and reading. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Ong. 1982. Orality and literacy: The technologizing of the word. Methuen.
Rowlands, M. 1999. The body in mind: Understanding cognitive processes. Cambridge: CUP.
Rupert, R.D. 2004. Challenges to the hypothesis of extended cognition. Journal of Philosophy 101: 389–428.
Rupert, R.D. 2009. Cognitive systems and the extended mind. USA: Oxford University Press.
Schacter, D.L. 1987. Implicit memory: History and current status. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition 13(3): 501.
Sellen, A.J., and S. Whittaker. 2010. Beyond total capture: A constructive critique of lifelogging. Communications of the ACM 53(5): 70–77.
Simmons, D. 2010. Ilium. Gateway.
Smart, P.R. 2012. The web-extended mind. Metaphilosophy 43(4): 446–463.
Smart, P. R., Engelbrecht, P., Braines, D., Strub, M., and J. Hendler. 2009. Cognitive extension and the web. Paper presented at the WebSci’09: Society, Athens, Greece.
Sparrow, B., J. Liu, and D.M. Wegner. 2011. Google effects on memory: Cognitive consequences of having information at our fingertips. Science 333(6043): 776–778.
Sutton, J. 2003. Constructive memory and distributed cognition: Towards an interdisciplinary framework. In Constructive Memory, ed. B. Kokinov and W. Hirst, 290–303.
Sutton, J. 2010. Exograms and interdisciplinarity: history, the extended mind, and the civilizing process. In The extended mind, ed. R. Menary, 189–225. London: Bradford Book, MIT Press.
Tulving, E. 1972. Episodic and semantic memory. In Organisation of memory, ed. E. Tulving and W. Donaldson. New York: New York: Academic Press.
Turkle, S. 2011. Alone together: Why we expect more from technology and less from each other. New York: Basic Books.
Watson, S.J. 2011. Before I go to sleep. London: Random House.
Wegner, D.M. 1987. Transactive memory: A contemporary analysis of the group mind. In Theories of group behavior, ed. B. Mullen and G. R. Goethals, 185–208. New York: Springer-Verlag.
Wilson, R.A., and A. Clark. 2009. How to situate cognition: Letting nature take its course. In The Cambridge handbook of situated cognition, ed. M. Aydede and P. Robbins, 55–77. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Yeo, R. 2008. Notebooks as memory aids: Precepts and practices in early modern England. Memory Studies 1(1): 115.
Robert Clowes would like to express his thanks to three anonymous reviewers and especially the editors John Sutton and Kourken Michaelian whose insights over several drafts of this paper much contributed to the paper’s scope and hopefully interest; their thoughtful comments have also given its author food for thought for future work. Of course its remaining failings are my responsibility alone. The author would also like to gratefully acknowledge a Portuguese Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia grant/BPD/70440/2010 that supported writing this paper.
About this article
Cite this article
Clowes, R.W. The Cognitive Integration of E-Memory. Rev.Phil.Psych. 4, 107–133 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13164-013-0130-y
- Parity Principle
- Cognitive Agent
- Proper Part
- Organic Memory
- Transactive Memory